The Supreme Court sided 7-2 with President Donald Trump on Thursday in a case over a federal law that substantially limits the role that courts can play in reviewing deportation decisions in certain cases under a streamlined process known as "expedited removal."
The opinion was authored by Justice Samuel Alito, and joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote separate opinions concurring with the judgment. Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented.
The ruling noted that the top court did not find the law unconstitutional in the specific case that was at issue, leaving open the possibility that a future challenge could be more successful.
The case was brought by Vijayakumar Thuraissigiam, a Sri Lankan asylum seeker who belongs to the Tamil ethnic minority group.
Thuraissigiam, who was apprehended by a Border Patrol agent in 2017 during an attempt to cross into the U.S. at the southern border, said he had been "abducted and brutally beaten by a gang of men" before he fled. Immigrants may avoid expedited removal if they can show that they have a "credible fear" of persecution.
Two asylum officers and an immigration judge rejected Thuraissigiam's credible fear claims, and a federal district court declined to review the matter on the basis of the expedited removal law.
But that decision was reversed on appeal by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which reasoned that the law was unconstitutional as applied to Thuraissigiam under the Constitution's Suspension Clause, which limits the government's ability to restrict the writ of habeas corpus. The appeals court also found that the law violated Thuraissigiam's right to due process.
The Trump administration, which has pursued an aggressive anti-immigration agenda, asked the Supreme Court to reverse that ruling.
Alito wrote that Thuraissigiam's "argument fails because it would extend the writ of habeas corpus far beyond its scope 'when the Constitution was drafted and ratified.'"
"Habeas has traditionally been a means to secure release from unlawful detention, but respondent invokes the writ to achieve an entirely different end, namely, to obtain additional administrative review of his asylum claim and ultimately to obtain authorization to stay in this country," Alito wrote.
On due process, Alito said the constitutional right applies to "aliens who have established connections in this country." But, he wrote, Thuraissigiam "attempted to enter the country illegally and was apprehended just 25 yards from the border."
"He therefore has no entitlement to procedural rights other than those afforded by statute," Alito wrote.
Breyer, joined by Ginsburg, wrote in his concurrence that he agreed that the Suspension Clause was not violated "in this particular case."
"But we need not, and should not, go further," he wrote.
Sotomayor, in her dissent joined by Kagan, said the majority's decision "handcuffs the Judiciary's ability to perform its constitutional duty to safeguard individual liberty and dismantles a critical component of the separation of powers."
"It will leave significant exercises of executive discretion unchecked in the very circumstance where the writ's protections 'have been strongest,'" she wrote.
American Civil Liberties Union attorney Lee Gelernt, who represented Thuraissigiam at the Supreme Court, said in a statement that the ruling "fails to live up to the Constitution's bedrock principle that individuals deprived of their liberty have their day in court, and this includes asylum seekers."
"This decision means that some people facing flawed deportation orders can be forcibly removed with no judicial oversight, putting their lives in grave danger," Gelernt said.
Representatives the Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The case is Department of Homeland Security v. Vijayakumar Thuraissigiam, No 19-161.